Burma's top military leaders recently resigned their posts and organized a new political party, a move possibly intended to run candidates in national elections later this year, the first since 1990.
The international community has been calling consistently for a return to representative, civilian rule in Burma. This action by some of Burma’s top generals, though, follows enactment of a restrictive election law that bars many political activists from running for office. The decision by General Thein Sein and some 20 other members of his cabinet to shed their uniforms raises more questions than it answers about Burma's future.
Under a controversial new constitution drafted by the military government, a popular vote some time later this year will, Burmese authorities say, restore civilian rule for the first time since 1962. The generals see the election as a way to enhance their credibility at home and deflect criticism on their policies from the international community.
To accomplish this, Burma's leaders would have to open up the political process. Instead, they restricted it with the new Political Parties Registration law and the constitution, which guarantees 25 percent of the seats in Parliament to the military even before the voting. Now, by leaving their military posts and forming the new Union Solidarity and Development Party, or USDP, Thein Sein and his “former” military colleagues could supplement the military’s 25% quota on parliamentary seats, enabling the military to retain control of the country under the guise of an open election.
The USDP has yet to announce its plans, and it is hoped that its intentions will soon be clear. To be credible, an open, free and fair election is essential, along with a chance to conduct a broad and serious dialogue with leading activists and various ethnic groups who deserve a say in Burma's future.